Don't knock the Eighties. There is plenty to thank them for

Cars in those days were brash but superbly made. That's why James Ruppert drives a 1985 Mark 2 Gold GTi

In case you hadn't noticed, the Eighties have made a comeback. The media are pumping out articles, books and TV programmes telling us all how greedy, naff and naughty it all was.

But in purely automotive terms there is lots to thank the Eighties for. It was almost the last chance for cars to be uncompromised, unapologetic, and as a result they were full of real character. A roll-call of hooligan supercars for the newly monied masses includes the hottest hatchback of them all, the Lancia Integrale. Developed to win international rallies, which it did, the surplus was released at the end of the decade to an appreciative buying public. John Whalley, a Lancia specialist, explains: "The demand for these models is incredible. Where else could you buy a car like this for pounds 10,000?"

A turbo charger, with four-wheel drive and racing pedigree don't come cheap. Unless that is you prefer the common or garden looks of a Ford Sierra with the outrageous performance of a Cosworth. Insurance problems aside, these saloon cars come with the obligatory turbo and four-wheel drive hardware, but at Ford Fiesta prices. The classifieds turn up several examples at between pounds 4,000 and pounds 6,000.

Best of all, the Eighties was when the hot hatch wars reached meltdown. Every manufacturer jumped on the marketing bandwagon by glueing GTi on the tailgate, but dynamically plenty were a let down. The French in particular responded enthusiastically to the challenge of putting dangerously exciting things into ever smaller packages. Hence the terrifying quick Renault 5 GT Turbo and the fragile, but fun, 205 GTi. The demand for these cars is now stronger than ever.

Wandering around car dealers in SW19 is like slipping back to the Eighties. At the Independent Motor Company, there were 13 Peugeot 205 GTis and just two of them made this decade. Prices from pounds 2,000 to pounds 4,000, while a couple of 5GT Turbos could be bought for under pounds 3,000. Over at nearby Tudor Price there were more Peugeots, some Fiat Uno Turbos - an underrated if flimsy hot hatch - and one of the last Renault 5GT Turbos. On sale for pounds 5,000, it looks brand new.

Above all though, the Eighties was the golden age of German motors. I should know, because I sold BMW 3 series by the showroom full. That iconic car has never looked, performed, or been built better. In those days an M3 really was an M3, all exotic left-hand drive, tearaway looks and an engine donated by a Formula 1 car. Prices of original M3s are climbing as buyers of new models discover how lacking in character they are. At L&C in Tunbridge Wells a 1988 model seemed expensive, pounds 13,9995, but interest was running high.

Over in Stuttgart during the "greed is good" decade the Porsche 911 hit a sort of inflationary spiral, as turbo versions tickled six-figure values. By contrast the 944 went quietly about its business as the work hard, play hard car. You don't have to be a banker to drive one either, running costs are containable and reliability is excellent. Michael Ticehurst, a Porsche specialist, offers to find me a nice 944 for between pounds 8,000 to pounds 12,000. I'm tempted.

Even normally sober German manufacturers like Audi and Mercedes came up with models which quickened the pulse. There was the four-wheel drive and turbocharged Audi Quattro Turbo, a coupe with real character. Mercedes had its own upmarket version of the Sierra Cosworth with the 190 16V. But the best Teutonic thing about the Eighties was the Volkswagen golf GTI.

Butt of a million Sloaney gags, it was the best hot hatch ever built, which is why I drive a 1985 Mark 2 Gold GTI. Just to make sure I borrowed an original 1979 example and the latest 1996 model. The Seventies Golf was borrowed from Tim Stiles Racing in Somerset. On sale for pounds 2,500 it was in superb condition, proving to be fast, noisy and fun. The new Nineties GTI was slow, soft and soporific. Only my own '85 on a 'B' GTI combined fun with refinement. According to Tim Stiles, demand for the older GTI is such that he is rebuilding them to customer specifications, with prices starting at pounds 10,000.

I am not alone in sticking to Eighties cars. A friend with a five-figure buying budget can't find a Nineties car to replace his 1986 BMW M5, so he's not going to bother. The evidence against Nineties cars is overwhelming. Build quality is worse, both VW and BMW experienced problems with their new 3 series and Golf. Nineties cars have lots of superfluous electronics and gadgets waiting to go wrong. Not surprisingly, used values of all the most sought-after Eighties models are firm and, in some cases, rising.

John Whalley Ltd 01279 654181; Independent Motor Co 0181-542 9863; Tudor Price 0181-540 7242; L&C 01892 540 7242; Michael Ticehurst 01491 680911; Tim Stiles Racing 01278 45036

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